In recent years, South Carroll boys lacrosse Coach Gene Brown has always said the county title chase would be a two- or three-team battle.
The other county coaches would protest, pointing to one or two top returning scorers, an assortment of returning midfielders, severalreturning defensemen and, occasionally, a returning starting goalie.
Brown would say a close race, but his colleagues would say the Cavaliers, without a doubt.
That's changed this year.
Brown stillswears it'll be a close horse race, but this year at least some of the other coaches agree with him. At least in part based on the closeness of the three junior varsity teams last year, it could be a three-team race.
The county also has the biggest changeover in the history of Carroll lacrosse -- two of the four high school coaches are newthis year. Chris Kraft, a native of Glen Burnie and one-time coach at Martin Spalding, a private school in Anne Arundel County, takes over at North Carroll, while Jim Langrill, a high school classmate of Westminster Coach Jim Peters, moves up from the junior varsity at Liberty.
Liberty has compiled back-to-back 4-8 seasons,but the JV team that Langrill coached last year went 9-1-1, with the only blemishes on that mark in the games against Westminster.
Despite just a handful of returning players, Langrill still has cause for optimism.
"Right now, I'm real happy with this team," he said. "We've got nice balance and depth all the way through the team."
Leading the way offensively is senior attackman Nick Lee, who Langrillsaid is "one of the most coachable kids you'll ever want to meet."
Also back to pace the defense is senior goalie Jim Grinestaff, lastyear's starter.
Still, Langrill said, Liberty does have a size problem.
"My big concern is in our size," he said, noting junior defender Pat Gagen, who at 6-foot-2 and 180 pounds, is the club's biggest player.
SOUTH CARROLL CAVALIERS
Add Kyle Blough to the long listof South Carroll players who have had a dynamite junior season and enter their final year poised to take over scoring chores.
Blough was the No. 3 scorer in the county last year with 27 goals and 15 assists, for 69 points. That was behind a pair of now-graduated teammates-- Jamie Carver and Steve Bowlin.
"We graduated a lot of people,"Coach Gene Brown said. "It's going to be difficult to replace Bowlinand Carver. That's our major problem."
The Cavs also suffered biglosses on midfield, defense and at goalie, meaning the rebuilding process is a total restructuring.
Still, Blough, fellow attackman David Edelmann and midfielder Craig Frizzell saw plenty of playing timelast year. Also, Brown is known for turning football players (he's an assistant grid coach) into outstanding defensemen, and he has a fewpotentially good ones in Ken Crocken, Greg Sherwood and Karl Streaker back from last year's team.
One concern may be in the nets, where senior Mike Gaffney saw little playing time behind Eddie Albert last year.
Some folks are whispering that this couldbe the year for the Owls to unseat South Carroll, which has been undefeated in four years worth of county games.
"I've been most impressed with my attack," said Owls coach Jim Peters. "I think Jeff Doolan's a leader."
Doolan is second only to Blough in scoring among returning players, with 15 goals and 14 assists last year. But Peters said his attack goes five or six deep with no major loss of talent.
Defensively, Shane Liddick and Andy Ingalls are the top players. Goalie is a question mark, as Adam Orenstein played in the shadow of Nathan White last year and Matt Mathias missed most of the season with aknee injury.
Scott Luers and Jason Warehime pace the midfield unit and supply important leadership to the team. Luers also is one of the state's top cross country performers.
"Leadership -- that's themost enjoyable part of this spring," Peters said. "They have been motivating themselves."
Graduation, injuries and academic ineligibilities have left many holes for Coach Mike Williams to fill, and he's looking for several talented newcomers to fill the gaps.
The biggest shortage is on attack, where several top scorers from last year have not returned for a variety of reasons. With some depth at midfield, Williams plans on running several of his middies on the front line.
Those three middies will be juniors Scott Stamppand Clark Hospelhorn and sophomore Andy Price, the latter a transferfrom NCAA Division III power Washington College in Chestertown on the Eastern Shore.
"The strength of our team right now is in the midfield," Williams said. "It's where our depth is and where our talent is."
Among the top midfielders is Liberty grad Kevin Mayer, teaming on the first unit with Hospelhorn and Craig Wanner. Freshman Ken Higgs, a Westminster grad, also should see midfield duty.
Brian Sattler returns on attack, but his status is doubtful until next week because of an injury, and Catonsville Community College transfer Tory Kasemeyer should shoulder some of the load.
The defense, too, has been hit with a serious injury. Kurt Reisenweber, who started every game as a freshman, is out for the season with a blood clot in his shoulder.
Making matters worse, the Middle Atlantic Conference may have its most powerful lineup ever this year.
Gettysburg already stunned Ohio Wesleyan, ranked No. 3 in Division III in the pre-season. Franklin & Marshall and Drew also should be strong, but Williams said his Terrors should be competitive with the rest of the league.